Creating the perfect starter cookware set for cheap

I’m a huge fan of cooking. I’ve done it seriously for ten years, inhaling instructional cookbooks, blog posts, how-to’s, and forums the entire time. I’ve strived to own a cookware set that is able to work for nearly every dish I can concoct, while being both frugal and minimalist. This set will work well in a small or large kitchen. I’ve eliminated everything I consider unnecessary from the set to create an efficient cooking environment. There is no order of importance here. Each piece is needed to make this work well. I’m not making anything from any of the product’s below. I just happen to think they’re the best based on research. Here’s what I recommend for your set: 

Knives & Other Utensils

First off, you need a good knife. The Victorinox 8-inch Chef’s Knife is the way to go. It’s one piece of steel. The handle is super sturdy. And, it keeps its blade for several years. It’s like $35 on Amazon.

Get a boning knife for handling thin slices. I have this one and it’s really well-made.

Get a micro-plane.  You can zest lemons, grate cheese, grate garlic, shave horseradish, or do just about anything grating-wise with this beauty. I use it all the time.

You could probably use some peelers, too. Tim Ferriss loves these ones. They’ve worked pretty well for me. Things you’ll likely need to peel: potatoes, cucumbers, squash, carrots, celery (sometimes), and apples (sometimes). I also use peelers to serve larger shavings of hard cheese like Romano or Parmesan.

A pair of scissors will save your knifes and make opening things a breeze. Anything with a decently sharp blade will work. You can grab these from Wal-Mart or the dollar store. Kitchen shears are nice but not totally necessary. 

You also should own a pair of tongs for grabbing and flipping. These are my favorite.

Blade tips: a)avoid using your knife to cut anything other than food. b)Do not attempt to sharpen it. c)Store it in a place where it isn’t rubbing up against anything loose.

Cutting Board

Get a cutting board that’s wood or soft plastic. Wood is easier to cut with, plastic is easier to clean. Don’t get any material  the blade of your nice new knife will make a loud noise on or slip easily. You could grab one off Amazon, Wal-Mart, or a restaurant supply shop. This would be fine.


Get at least one large stainless steel pot with a lid. You can wait for a good one from a thrift shop or just buy it straight from Ebay or Amazon. The main order of business is to get one that is really sturdy. Anthony Bourdain has the right idea on this one.  The better of a weapon your pot could be, the better it will be at conducting heat evenly. Don’t bother with non-stick. It can’t handle high heat and is too high maintenance. If you have a Chinese restaurant supply store near you, they’ve got solid pots for great prices. This is the kind they sell. You use this for all liquid-based dishes. Cover food if it needs to cook through and can handle some extra heat. Keep the top off if you want to crisp things, reduce them, or keep the heat down. In general, the cooking I do with my pot is at the medium to low temperature range on the stove top. I’d buy this one.

Stainless Steel Saute Pan

This is where you do the higher heat cooking. Saute literally means “jump” in French, chosen because hot food bits and liquid pop and jump off the pan. Following the same principle as your pot, you want a pan that is super sturdy and not non-stick. 12 inches is a good size to start with if you’re cooking for two. This is the standard size used for cooking single orders “on the line” of a restaurant kitchen.  Here’s an example of a really good one. If you spend some time roaming local thrift shops, you might score a great pan. If not, look to Amazon. I’d buy this one. Make sure to get this pan hot before putting in your food.

Non-stick pan

Follow all the rules for sturdiness above but get something non-stick. This makes cooking eggs and delicate foods like fish much easier. You won’t find a good non-stick pan at a thrift shop because very few last long. Here’s one on Amazon that’s good.

Teflon Tips

a)don’t use metal on non-stick coating. It really does mess with it.

b)don’t heat up the non-stick pan past low heat without anything on it. It will greatly shorten its lifespan. 

c) things will be even easier to flip in the pan if you have a slotted spatula. They look like this.

Drain & Strain

You need two levels of strainer fineness. One to drain water, the other to drain out fine particles from soups and sauces. This will skyrocket your food’s quality. Any old collander is fine. Get one from a thrift shop. You should also be able to find a finer mesh strainer. Reddit seems to really love drum sieves. You could replace the strainer with that if you prefer.

Baking gear

One half baking sheet is all you really need.  Think this one. You should also get some aluminum foil to ease up the cleaning on this.

Food bakes a lot better when it has hot air on all sides. That is why a baking rack is so vital. These ones are super cheap and have served me really well so far this year.

Cleaning up

Get 12 blue huck towels. These things are awesome for grabbing hot pans and cleaning up messes. They will save you big on paper towels. I recommend these over regular kitchen towels because these have no residue or fibers that stay behind on clean surfaces. They were original created for operating rooms so you can feel good about using them in your kitchen for cleanliness.

That should cover you for cookware. To recount. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 8-inch Chef’s Knife, Victorinox
  • Boning Knife, Victorinox
  • Microplane
  • Peelers
  • Scissors
  • Tongs
  • Cutting Board
  • 6qt stainless steel pot with lid
  • 12-inch pan, stick
  • 12-inch pan non-stick
  • Half Baking Sheet
  • Cooling Rack
  • Colander
  • Strainer or Sieve
  • 12 Blue Huck Towels

This is a pure essentialist list. You’ll be using each of these items often in your kitchen for multiple purposes. You likely have plenty of room for all of them, and they’re not super expensive.